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Harry Turtledove’s “Must And Shall” by Chris Oakley

When most fans of alternate history fiction hear the words “Harry Turtledove” and “Civil War” mentioned in the same sentence they usually think of his classic time travel opus Guns of the South, in which racists attempt to make use of temporal physics to change the course of American history in their favor, or his more recent epic novel series American Empire, which re-imagines the two World Wars and the Great Depression in the context of a Southern victory at Antietam during the Civil War’s crucial second year. But what might be his darkest Civil War-themed AH saga is a 1997 short story by the title of “Must And Shall”, set in a New Orleans occupied by the U.S. Army nearly eighty years after the war’s end. It starts in 1864 with President Abraham Lincoln’s famous visit to Fort Stevens near Washington, D.C. as part of an inspection tour with then-Union Army captain and future Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes; the story diverges from the actual course of events of that day when Turtledove has Lincoln, who in real life survived the Confederates’ assault on Fort Stevens that day to win a second term in the White House in November, falling victim to a lucky shot by a Confederate sniper. Lincoln’s vice- president Hannibal Hamlin then quickly takes the reins of power in the Oval Office and proceeds to unleash a harsh retribution on the faltering South that makes the Reconstruction of our own history look like a day at the beach.

Fast forward to 1942 and the arrival of federal agent Neil Michaels in New Orleans to investigate rumors that the Nazis are supplying weapons to Confederate sympathizers in the Crescent City to start an uprising that will distract Washington’s attention from the war in Europe. And if you think the passing a measly eight decades has done anything to lessen the seething hate the citizens of Turtledove’s occupied South feel towards their occupiers, that notion is quickly dispelled by an encounter between Michaels and an elevator operator en route to his hotel the day he arrives in town. I won’t spoil it for you by revealing too many additional details, but suffice it to say the elevator man voices a decidedly negative attitude towards the federal government.

Interesting as this story is, it suffers from a critical flaw which was aptly pointed out by James Marten’s commentary in the Mike Resnick anthology History Revisited: it asks readers to buy into the notion that the accidental shooting of Honest Abe by a Confederate Army grunt in Turtledove’s alternate history who may not have known who he was firing at would provoke greater outrage than the intentional murder of Lincoln in our own history in 1865 by an assassin who was thoroughly familiar with Lincoln’s visage and identity. Marten also correctly notes that Turtledove commits a major factual error by having the newly inaugurated President Hamlin give an inaugural speech on the White House lawn when in fact there has never been a single case in U.S. history where the successor of a chief executive who died while still in office had the chance to give an inaugural address upon taking office.

   That said, the story’s virtues balance its flaws. Turtledove’s portrayal of New Orleans in this timeline not only brilliantly sums up the spirit of the real Crescent City but also offers a realistic portrait of an occupied metropolis. And Turtledove’s closing line, in which Michaels talks about “fighting tyrants around the world”, neatly sums up the irony of trying to defend fundamental American rights in a world where half of America is essentially under martial law.

The End




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